Preparing your home for sale in a challenging economy requires time, elbow grease and a discerning eye. Many new buyers are entering the market and looking for deals, so competition among home sellers can be fierce. The key to a quick sale at the highest price, according to experts at the American Society of Home Inspectors, is preparation. Here's a checklist for preparing your home for a successful sale.

Create space: Most people buy homes because they need more room for a growing family, so the more "space" it appears you have, the higher the price you're likely to get. To create more space, even in a small house, de-clutter rooms and eliminate excess furniture (all extras that you want in your next home can be moved to a rented storage space). Then clean out your garage, basement and other areas that buyers will want for their own storage.

Maximize and neutralize: After cleaning, it's time to paint. Professional relocation firms use this technique with houses they have to sell quickly. Once the seller's moving van clears the corner, they immediately paint all rooms off-white and install a low-grade, tan wall-to-wall carpet. You may not want to purchase new carpet, but preparing your home with a fresh paint job will go a long way to attracting buyers. It's easier to imagine a new baby's room when you're looking at cleanly painted walls instead of the grunge or day-glo orange left by the previous teenage occupant.

Home Staging TipsAll systems go: The next step in preparing your home for sale is to get your mechanical systems serviced by qualified contractors. It's generally not expensive but is extremely important. Service your air conditioning system, clean your furnace, repair plumbing leaks, and repair any electrical switches or outlets that are not working. Fix any minor problems before they become major ones.

Outside check: Once you're finished inside the house, do a little work to freshen up the exterior. Replace broken windows, repair rotted trim, cut back trees that are too close to the house and make sure your landscaping looks neat.

Inspection plus: A professional home inspector can offer valuable expert help in the pre-sale process. Buyers usually want their own inspection, but you'll be far ahead of the game by getting an impartial expert check your house beforehand. An inspector can provide lists of needed repairs and, most importantly, give you an early warning of any potentially major problems likely to creep up when a buyer's inspector gets involved. There's nothing worse than bargaining down to your last dollar on the sale of your house, only to find out later that your furnace is shot and the buyer wants you to pay for a new one.

Soap is cheap: Experts say a clean house can lead to a quicker sale, so don't skimp on this part of your preparation process. People aren't buying a home, they're buying a lifestyle, so if they can't imagine themselves in the home because it's grungy, dusty or cluttered, the home becomes much harder to sell. So when preparing your home for sale, get a broom, sponges and empty it out. Soap is cheap!